One of the first doctors to identify the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has said there is too much “hype” around it and criticised government decisions to close borders and reimpose travel restrictions.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, the chair of the South African Medical Association was one of the first doctors who suspected that a new kind of coronavirus had emerged.

She has criticised travel restrictions and said they served no purpose as those with the new variant weren’t experiencing severe symptoms.

“Looking at the mildness of the symptoms that we are seeing, currently there’s no reason for panicking as we don’t see severely ill patients,” Dr Coetzee said.

“The hype that’s been created currently out there in the media and worldwide, doesn’t correlate with the clinical picture.”

Cases of people with the Omicron variant have been recorded in the UK, Germany, Belgium and Italy, as well as Israel, Botswana and Hong Kong.

Two cases were recorded in Australia over the weekend, after genomic testing confirmed that the two international arrivals to Sydney who tested positive to COVID-19 had the new variant.

They were among 14 people arriving from southern Africa, with the remaining 12 now undertaking 14 days of hotel quarantine.

About 260 passengers and air crew have been identified as close contacts and directed to isolate.

Around the country, there are fears the new variant could alter reopening plans. In Queensland, businesses have called for the government to stick with the easing of restrictions in mid-December, while Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has said the state won’t return to “square one” in terms of lockdowns and restrictions.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has said the state will continue with its current roadmap, with restrictions to ease on December 15.

“At the moment we’re sticking to that (reopening) plan,” he told Sky News Australia.

“I think this is just another example COVID is going to be with us for some time and the best thing we can do as a state is keep that vaccination level as high as possible.”

The emergence of the Omicron variant comes as the World Health Organisation has called out wealthy countries for hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and administering third doses while other countries struggle to vaccinate their own populations.

As of Sunday, 86.7 percent of Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated, whereas only about 24 percent of South Africa’s population have had both jabs.

Image: Getty Images

This article first appeared on Over60.